As the dancers took their places, Justine Essis Gildea, 17, had an intense case of the jitters. But she wasn’t onstage. The Central Pennsylvania Youth Ballet student was watching the debut of her ballet, Mishima, part of the 2012 FirstSteps CPYB Student Choreographic Workshop. “I was more nervous than I’d ever been as a dancer,” she says. “Everything is on the line because you’ve worked so hard to create it.”

Most of us strive to perfect our performances, but do you ever wonder what it feels like on the other side of the rehearsal studio? Many top training programs, including the School of American Ballet, Boston Ballet School and the Chautauqua Institution, have started offering choreography workshops, classes or intensives. While these are typically optional, there are plenty of reasons why you should opt in—regardless of whether you plan on becoming the next Balanchine. With more of today’s ballet companies emphasizing new choreography, either through commissioned works (sometimes from their own dancers) or even choreographic competitions, your chances of being created on are quite high. By stepping into a choreographer’s shoes, you can grow more keenly aware of what they need from you as a dancer, making you a more attractive hire.

Understanding Choreography

“We’re not trying to teach people to be choreographers,” says CPYB resident choreographer Alan Hineline, who directs the school’s FirstSteps program, “but we’re trying to provide them with the skills and the experience to understand what it means to be a choreographer.”

This year, Hineline plans to build upon the FirstSteps program by offering composition classes to help dancers better understand choreographic building blocks, such as musical phrasing and spatial structure. His class will introduce students to formal structures shared between different forms of art, such as one group working against another in a canon. “You watch something like Balanchine’s ‘Waltz of the Flowers’ and you see how canons are so effective as a means to express musicality,” says Hineline.

Developing Taste and Style
At Houston Ballet Academy, Chase Cobb helps coordinate an annual choreographic collaboration between summer intensive dancers and student composers from the American Festival for the Arts. “When you choreograph, you’re asked to qualify every choice that you make, distill it down into tangible ideas and then communicate it to somebody else,” he says. “The experience really helps hone students’ communication skills and solidify their ideas as artists.”

For many students, the process starts by researching favorite choreographers to help them formulate ideas and discover their own artistic taste. For his duet Discovery and the Like, Houston Ballet Academy student James Potter, 16, turned to Mats Ek. “A lot of his work has a domesticated, homey feel that’s totally relatable,” says Potter. “I wanted to incorporate that same feel in my work.”

Most schools use a hands-off approach to choreography, allowing students to create whatever they like and cultivate a personal working style. “Some dancers come in and have all the steps mapped out,” says Hineline, “while others are freer in their process.” Either way, students learn that flexibility is key, as ideas often change. For instance, Alexander Manning, a CPYB alum now apprenticing with Miami City Ballet, discovered that phrases that felt comfortable on his male frame sometimes looked laborious on his all-female cast.

Gaining Leadership Skills
Choreography classes can also take dancers to a new level of personal growth: Not only are you forced to dig deep creatively, but you develop time management, organizational and leadership skills. No longer focused on their own dancing, students must take charge of the room and sensitively gauge the work habits of others while staying on course. “I didn’t want to be rude, but I didn’t want to be so lenient that the piece didn’t turn out well,” says Gildea. Receptive dancers with a willingness to collaborate proved especially valuable to her during the process. “Next time I work with a choreographer, I want to be the same way.”

Showing your piece and listening to feedback is common during choreographic workshops. “It’s very exposing,” says Cobb, “but it allows the choreographers to step back a bit and see their work for its full value.” For instance, after faculty members advised Potter to create more emotional connections between his dancers, he spent the remaining rehearsal period developing their characterizations. Learning to take critiques about something you’ve created can be one of the most challenging parts of the process, but it builds maturity that can translate back to your dance life.

A Choreographer’s Dancer
Many students say that participating in a choreographic workshop opened their eyes as artists. “It changed how I watched ballet,” says Manning, who used to focus primarily on the dancers. Now, he sees the bigger picture, from music to lighting to spacing. Experiencing the amount of effort choreographers pour into their work—and knowing firsthand what they need—allows you, as a dancer, to approach your work more creatively and intelligently. “Now that I’m back on the other side,” says Manning, “I want to be that inspiring, hard-working, collaborative dancer they look for.”
   


Kozlova’s Competition Gets Edgier
The Valentina Kozlova International Ballet Competition is going contemporary this year, with a makeover as the International Contemporary Choreographers and Dancers Competition. The event has always included a compulsory contemporary variation, but this edition will cut the classical component out of the mix. (For classical competitors, the regular VKIBC will be back in 2015.)

For founder Valentina Kozlova, the decision to host a contemporary competition was simple. “For every single ballet company today, you need to be a dancer who can do contemporary as well as the classics,” she says. “This isn’t modern or jazz or acrobatics, but the kind of contemporary that is performed in classical companies today.”

The competition, which will be held in New York City on April 28 and 29, will be open to dancers and choreographers of all ages, with an emphasis on granting exposure to up-and-coming dancemakers. “There are many talented choreographers around and they have trouble starting,” says Kozlova. “I want to use this to help promote young talent.”

Solo dancers will present two works each. Choreographers will be allowed to enter solo, duet or group works. All interested competitors can apply online at vkibc.org.


Class on the Road
Want to take class while you’re on tour or vacation? Download the On Point Dance app for your iPhone, iPad or iPod touch. You can search 16 major cities to see a list of daily class schedules at all nearby dance schools. Quickly scroll from school to school and compile your own list of the best offerings. The program costs 99 cents in iTunes.


Technique Tip

“I sometimes hold a pen (actually a skinny makeup brush!) between my pointer, middle and ring fingers for a few combinations at barre. It helps me feel my fingers so that I can create a beautiful shape with my hands throughout the day.” —Pittsburgh Ballet Theatre principal Julia Erickson

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Photo by Rob Becker, courtesy DePrince.

In January, a commercial for Chase's QuickPay Mobile App starring Michaela DePrince aired on national television. In March, it was announced that Madonna would be directing the movie version of DePrince's autobiography. And in April, she graced the cover of Harper's Bazarre Netherlands. With all the buzz, it's easy to forget that the Dutch National Ballet soloist has been sidelined since August 2017 with a ruptured Achilles tendon. Pointe checked in with DePrince to see how her recovery is going.

Last fall, you ruptured your Achilles tendon. How did that happen?

It was the first of August. I was in Sicily doing an event with Google. We had dinner at a temple and it was just absolutely incredible. I'm kind of clumsy outside of ballet, so I thought it would be safer if I took my shoes off. Then Lenny Kravitz starts to sing a song and he dedicates it to me. I got up and went to go sit next to him on the stage. When I got up from sitting, I stepped in the wrong place at the wrong time. I knew right away that I ruptured my Achilles. They brought me to an ambulance and took me to the hospital. I flew back to the Netherlands the next day and had an appointment with the doctors here in Amsterdam. They said, "Yeah, you ruptured three quarters of your Achilles." And then on August 14, I had surgery.

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Make sure you're comfortable slipping into pointe shoes for center. Photo by Jim Lafferty.

I was offered a company contract (my first!) starting this fall. What should I do in the meantime to make sure I'm as prepared as possible? —Melissa

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Photographed by Jayme Thornton for Pointe.

This is Pointe's April/May 2018 Cover Story. You can subscribe to the magazine here, or click here to purchase this issue.

If you are a dance lover in South Korea, EunWon Lee is a household name. The delicate ballerina and former principal at the Korean National Ballet danced every major classical role to critical acclaim, including Odette/Odile, Giselle, Kitri, Nikiya and Gamzatti. Then, at the peak of her career, Lee left it all behind.

In 2016, she moved to Washington, DC, to join The Washington Ballet. The company of 26 is unranked, making Lee simply a dancer—not a soloist, not a principal and not a star, like she was back home.

"I try to challenge myself, and always I had the urge to widen my experience and continue to improve," she says one blustery winter day after company class, still glowing from the exertion of honing, stretching and strengthening. "When I had a chance to work with Julie Kent, I didn't hesitate."

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Olga Smirnova. Photo by Quinn Wharton.

Several weeks ago, Youth America Grand Prix announced that the lineup for tonight's Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow gala at Lincoln Center's Koch Theater would include Bolshoi Ballet principal Olga Smirnova and first soloist Jacopo Tissi. But an article in Page Six published last night states that Smirnova and Tissi were denied visas to enter the US.

YAGP organizers "believe the Department of Homeland Security's decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers," says the piece, noting that "Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash."

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Houston Ballet principal Connor Walsh getting early practice as a leading man. Photo courtesy Connor Walsh

It's that time of year again—recital season! And not so long ago, some of your favorite ballet dancers were having their own recital experiences: dancing, discovering, bowing, laughing, receiving after-show flowers, making memories, and, of course, having their pictures taken! For this week's #TBT, we gathered recital photos—and the stories behind them—from five of our favorite dancers.

Gillian Murphy, American Ballet Theatre

Murphy gets ready for her role as "Mary Had a Little Lamb." Photo courtesy Gillian Murphy.

"This photo was taken by my mom when I was 11, waiting in the dressing room (the band room of West Florence High School in South Carolina) before I went onstage as 'Mary' for a recital piece featuring 3-year-olds as little lambs.I had so much fun being the teacher's assistant in the baby ballet class each week, particularly because my little sister Tessa [pictured below] was one of the 3-year-olds. I remember feeling quite grown up at the time because I was dancing in the older kids' recital piece later in the program, but in this moment I was just looking forward to leading my little lambs onstage in their number."

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From the latest launches to forever favorites, these stretch-canvas flats will (comfortably) keep you on your toes:


Bloch Inc. Infinity


Bloch combined the top features from two of their best-selling shoes to create this arch-enhancing slipper. An elastic top line (instead of draw- string) allows the shoe to mold to your foot, and a ridge-less outsole helps with balances and turns by giving the toes more room to spread out.


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Photo by Jacob Bryant, Courtesy Random Acts

"When you turn up at someone's door saying, 'I would like to make the first dance in Antarctica,' they often call you crazy."

So says Kiwi choreographer and former ballet dancer Corey Baker. Luckily, his persistence paid off. On Sunday, April 22 (that's Earth Day, everybody), Baker, who now directs the U.K.–based Corey Baker Dance, is releasing his short film "Antarctica: The First Dance." Commissioned by Random Acts for Channel 4 and The Space (UK), the four-minute film stars Royal New Zealand Ballet dancer Madeleine Graham—who performed in unimaginably frigid conditions to promote Baker's very important message. "I wanted to highlight Antarctica's epic landscape and vast beauty, but at the same time show that it is under threat," he says. "Climate change impact is real and immediate. By showing up-close the beauty of this incredible place, people can feel closer to something that may otherwise seem abstract and unconnected."

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